The director of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Dr. Steven Walker, announced on January 8 the appointment of Dr. Peter Highnam as deputy director of the agency. Highnam, a former DARPA program manager, is expected to help advance critical research in several fields including artificial intelligence, data analytics, communications, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, biosecurity, and warfighter health.
Highnam succeeds Dr. Stefanie Tompkins, a ten-year veteran of DARPA, who has served as the acting deputy director of the agency since January 2017 and departs this month after being named the vice president for research and technology transfer at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO.
Highnam comes to DARPA following an assignment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) where he was responsible for the agency’s research organization for the past two and a half years. Prior to this assignment he served six years at the ODNI Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), initially as an office director, and then as director. While at IARPA Highnam was also involved in government-wide high performance computing (HPC) activities, including the National Strategic Computing Initiative and the Department of Energy exascale initiative. Before IARPA he worked for six years in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
As a senior advisor in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Highnam had responsibilities in multiple areas where high performance computing intersects with biomedicine and public health, including computational epidemiology. As senior advisor in the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), he produced analyses related to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear events, as well as naturally occurring disease, in support of public health decision-making.
From 1999 to 2003, Highnam was a DARPA program manager working in electronic warfare and airborne communications. His research in electronic warfare (Advanced Tactical Technology (AT3) program) focused on inexpensive approaches to rapidly and accurately target enemy air defense radars from greater standoff distances. Also, Highnam investigated technology for high performance, flexible, and secure networked communication between tactical aircraft (Tactical Targeting Technology (TTNT) program), enabling plans to move away from systems such as Link 16.
Highnam worked for more than a decade in applied research at Schlumberger Limited where he implemented industry-changing seismic data analytics on massively parallel computers. He also served as a director of a successful biomedical imaging startup company.
Highnam holds a Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award and a Department of Defense Civilian Exceptional Service Award. He is a co-inventor on three patents in commercial seismic exploration and holds a doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.